The Royal Albert Hall is the world’s most famous stage. Over the past 147 years, we have hosted everyone from Albert Einstein to Arctic Monkeys, The Beatles to Beyoncé, Churchill to Chvrches.
Last year we presented 401 events by the world’s greatest performers – taking in rock, pop and classical music, theatre, dance, films, Cirque du Soleil and even tennis.
Opened in 1871, the central Hall is a registered charity that remains true to its founding ambitions of being set up to promote the arts and sciences. Yet we are dedicated to looking to the future, with our Education & Outreach programme that reaches more than 185,000 participants each year, working with schools, young people and the community. With 1.7 million visitors a year, ‘the nation’s village hall’ is the world’s busiest venue, while its 1,000 events in secondary spaces help to welcome a young, diverse audience to the Hall.
We’ve encouraged engagement and awareness both internally and externally with sustainability, but as an iconic cultural venue, we’ve also managed to engage with the conversation without even meaning to!
“How many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall”
The Hall is commonly used as a unique measurement, often in news reports discussing sustainable issues relating to dangerous levels of waste – for example, the reference to the Hall being filled 1,000 times over with the number of straws that Londoners throw away annually, or filling the Hall every hour just in the amount of rubbish the UK produces.
This is an example of communication we don’t plan, but I’m going to explain a few ways we’ve begun to increase staff engagement with sustainability and start to tackle the tricky issue of communicating this externally.
We set out a sustainability policy and handbook with Julies Bicycle in 2017– which was subsequently emailed to all staff and is readily available via our staff portal Backstage, for everyone to freely read.
In a nutshell, we chose 3 core themes to measure our ongoing environmental progress, which are:
- Staff engagement & empowerment
- Supplier partnerships
- Collaboration with other cultural institutions
- Understand environmental impacts
- Reduce environmental impacts
- Invest in local sustainable infrastructure
- Creative programming
- Visitor experience
- Educational programming
This has helped influence many changes since it’s foundation and is something which all staff and departments need to consider with any new initiatives – be it new partnerships and suppliers or any new building developments. For more on how to set up an effective Environmental Policy, you might want to check out JB’s webinar on this here.
As part of the Hall’s wider commitment to improving our sustainable business practices we looked at what waste we produce ourselves and highlighted a priority ‘quick-win’ area to address, which was disposable coffee cups. The committee decided that one way to encourage engagement was for everyone to start being conscious of single-use waste.
So a branded KeepCup was given to all staff, but with one condition. If you want to have a hot drink from our Café Bar you need to use our KeepCup to be eligible for the discount offered to all staff, and if you turned up without it you’d pay full price.
The reason for retracting the discount to deter people was tied to the behavioural science idea of loss-aversion. This is where people experience negative feelings of a loss twice as strongly than they feel a sense of positive gain. In other words, giving the KeepCup to all staff was a stark reminder of the Hall’s aims to be more proactive in its sustainable values, but those not using their cups would feel the cost of paying much more than those who bring their cup. Since this change in August last year, no-one who works for the Hall walks around with paper cups any longer and it has resulted in a much broader awareness of sustainability.
Looking externally, our core main message is that we’re striving to make our 150 year old building as sustainable as we possibly can. Our website is the main form of external communication, discussed in more detail below, but here are a few other ways in which we’ve tried to engage externally:
Programming – we hosted Planet Earth II – Live in Concert last year and hope to start programming even more events focused around sustainable ideas.
Promoters – we now encourage promoters we work with to use recycled paper for their leaflets, whilst also encouraging other services to be more effective than leaflets (email and social media marketing for example) and we are beginning to move away from having leaflets on site.
E-tickets – we encourage customers through their confirmation email not to print tickets.
Bars and restaurants – no plastic straws or cutlery are used in any bars or restaurants across the site.
Communicating Through Our Website
Our main focus for external communication is our website. The structure of our Sustainability page aims to reflect our sustainability policy, focusing on the 3 key areas of Building Transformation, Partnerships and Suppliers, and Working Life (covering Staff Engagement) plus other changes we feel are important to share.
We’ve chosen to illustrate several key changes we’ve made – aiming for this to be as concise and readable as possible – giving a few facts such as how much furniture we have recycled, and trying to make the things inevitably less interesting to customers (ie pipes) more intriguing.
Our biggest sustainability challenge is being a 150 year old building, so currently we don’t overtly discuss sustainability in other forms of marketing, but we do feel it’s important to showcase the changes we are making and are striving to make wherever we can.
One final area relating to external engagement falls with our partnerships. When pitching to new partners, it’s important that they share our sustainable values. Two recent partnerships – with Harrogate Water and Cafe Direct – hold sustainability at the forefront of their communications. We can then build this narrative into press-releases so sustainability becomes the focus when we are talking about our values externally.
I hope this helps gives you some ideas for your own organisations.
For further insight, check out our webinar on communicating environmental stories for arts and cultural organisations below.
– Photo credit: Collingridge, J